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Photograph: Jakob N. LaymanRoger Room

What’s in the yellow tier? Here’s what’s in store for L.A.’s next round of reopenings.

Bars could finally open again indoors.

By
Michael Juliano
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UPDATE: As expected, on Tuesday, May 4 the state moved Los Angeles County into the yellow tier, with an adjusted case rate of 1.6 per 100,000 people. Expect the county to issue its guidelines on Wednesday, and for them to likely go into effect Thursday. Our original story appears below.

Los Angeles County had been stuck in California’s most restrictive purple tier for more than half a year. But now, since mid-March, the county has sailed through a couple of other color-coded reopenings and could now be looking at the least-restrictive yellow tier.

Like the jump from red to orange, the move into yellow would mostly mean increased capacities across most sectors. But it would also notably allow bars that don’t serve food to reopen indoors for the first time in over year, albeit at only 25% capacity.

In order to move forward, a county must meet a series of state requirements for two straight weeks, with an extra cooling off week if a county has just recently moved tiers. On April 27, L.A. County posted its first week with all of its metrics in the yellow tier. The state uses a lagging set of data, so since L.A.’s numbers continue to improve, it’s likely that California will move L.A. into the yellow tier on May 4. If so, the county would then officially post the new rules the follow day and have them take effect on Thursday, May 6. The move would come just shy of a month out from California’s goal to do away with the tier system on June 15.

With that bit out of the way, here’s what would change in the yellow tier:

Restaurants: Indoor dining capacity remains at 50%, but there’s no longer a 200-person cap.

Bars: Bars that don’t serve meals could reopen indoors for the first time at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less.

Wineries, breweries and distilleries: For spots that don’t serve meals (the ones that do are considered restaurants), they can open indoors at 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is less.

Movie theaters: Capacity remains at 50%, but the 200-person maximum cap is dropped—a major change for large movie palaces.

Family entertainment centers: Bowling alleys and escape rooms can increase their capacity to 50%—or 75% if everyone is vaccinated or tested.

Museums, zoos and aquariums: Museums could move to full capacity, but with some distancing measures still in place.

Gyms: Indoor capacity doubles to 50%. Hot tubs and saunas could reopen (this would apply to hotels, too).

Retail: Stores, including malls, can open at full capacity, as long as they still allow for distancing. The state technically already allows for full capacity in the orange tier, but L.A. County has kept retail at 75%.

Offices: Though offices can be open with modifications, the state still encourages remote work.

Stadiums and outdoor performances: Venue max capacity increases to 67%, regardless of whether or not all guests are tested or vaccinated. They’re still limited to in-state attendees (or fully vaccinated out-of-state visitors).

Arenas and indoor performances: Capacities increase across the board, but the exact numbers depend on venue size and attendees’ vaccination status. For venues that fit fewer than 1,500 people, they can open at 25% capacity or 300 people; if all guests are tested or vaccinated, that bumps up to 50%. For larger venues, capacity increases to 10% or 2,000 people—or 50% if all guests are tested or vaccinated. These venues, too, are limited to in-state attendees or fully vaccinated out-of-state visitors.

Private events: For seated, ticketed events, functions with up to 200 people would be allowed outdoors, or as many as 400 outdoors or 200 indoors if everyone is tested or vaccinated. 

Theme parks: Overall park capacity increases to 35%, but indoor capacity remains at 25%. Like performance venues, they’re still limited to in-state visitors (or, if a park chooses to do so, fully vaccinated out-of-state visitors).

There’s one very big caveat for all of these worth noting: Though the state may place L.A. into the yellow tier, the county ultimately decides whether or not to make the above changes. L.A. has largely stuck with the state guidelines recently, but there have been some differences (like retail capacity, mentioned above).

Also, the state has recently made a change that allows venues to increase their capacity by an additional 50% of their tier-specified maximum if everyone is tested or vaccinated. While that might be feasible for things like concerts, we doubt that you’ll see your average local restaurant asking for proof of a test or vaccine.

For a county to move forward, it needs to meet a few key coronavirus metrics: the seven-day average of cases per 100,000 county residents as well as the positivity rate of all Covid-19 tests. In addition, the state has equity requirements for both numbers that take into account the status of some of the hardest-hit populations (the state specifically references Latino, Black, Pacific Islander, low income and essential worker communities). To move from the orange to yellow tier, a county needs two straight weeks of less than 2 cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 2% or less (and specifically less than 2.2% in the health equity quartile). On April 27, L.A. County posted 1.9 cases per 100,000 people, a positivity rate of .9% and a health equity quartile positivity rate of 1%.

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